The graves are all fresh. Row after row of them, almost identical. The same sandy mound, the same black, red and yellow sheet with a golden star on it.
The same wooden Orthodox cross to mark the grave, although there are also some Muslim headstones. Only names and dates on a small bronze plaque extinguished John’s distinction. None of them lived to old age.
This is a Wagner mercenary cemetery near Krasnodar in southern Russia. Krasnodar region. Center of the Wagner Group. Their training ground is in a nearby village called Molkino.
A short distance away is a newly constructed chapel that houses the urns of the burnt warriors. And when the next wave of bodies comes home, the cemetery has room for more graves.
Wagner is heavily involved in Russia’s offensive around Bakhmut and Soledar in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Ukraine says its fighters have died in the thousands.
Presumably most of them were criminals, sent to die like cannon fodder and buried away from home in Wagner’s cemetery. Perhaps they had no homes to speak of after spending time in Russia’s penal colonies.
“The area near Solidar is covered with the bodies of the attackers… it looks like madness”, said Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his one-night address.
In the past few days, it has also claimed to be behind the seizure of the village of Klashchevka, nine kilometers south of Bakhmut, although this has yet to be confirmed by Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry has been less forthcoming about Wagner’s role but has acknowledged that he played a role in Solidar’s capture.
There have been rumours, dismissed by the Kremlin as media speculation, that army chiefs Valery Gerasimov He was replaced by Sergei Serovkin. Partly as head of Ukraine operations to keep Prigozhin in line.
Putting the top military commander in charge of Russia’s “special military operations” could be interpreted as a way to reinforce the military’s hierarchy and remind Prigozhin and his mercenary band who are ultimately in charge.
Prigozhin, who just months ago refused to confirm the well-known secret that he ran the Wagner Group and sued anyone who suggested otherwise, was all guns blazing. have come before the public. He said there was no need for a “reign of silence” anymore.
There are now videos of him in the salt mines around Buckmouth, where US officials believe he is eyeing mineral booty.
There are videos of him awarding medals to his fighters. There are videos of him surveying piles of body bags behind the front row and attending funerals on his way home. They have not shied away from their losses, demanding the same rights for their men as ordinary soldiers.
He has shown himself to be a presence on the front lines, quite a battlefield commander, which is more than can be said for the ultimate commander-in-chief, who, unlike the president of Ukraine, has never visited the front. did not
Prigozhin’s PR team provides quick answers to media questions, allegedly from the man himself. In a recent salvo, he took aim at Kremlin bureaucrats who he says are eager to lose the war on Russia and for America to call the shots in Russia. But America “will not take you in,” he writes to these Kremlin traitors. “And then you will come to us, where Wagner Sledgehammer will be waiting for you.”
A sledgehammer is not an idle threat. In November, video surfaced showing a Wagner mercenary being beaten to death with a hammer for fleeing Ukraine. When asked to comment, Prigosan replied, “A dog gets a dog’s death”.
Later this month, a bloody hammer in the violin case was presented to the European Parliament as it debated whether to designate Russia a terrorist state, a terrifying message from a group known as “Musicians” in Russia. Also known as
But losing so many men creates problems, and Russia’s prison recruitment drive is reportedly winding down.
Paul Whelan, an American citizen (who also holds British citizenship) and imprisoned in 2018 for espionage, told his brother David that Wagner’s recruits had last visited his prison colony. So they had very little luck. “Everyone has a clear picture of what happens to the Kremlin’s prisoners of war in Ukraine,” wrote David Whelan in his regular email updates. This time, they reportedly managed to sign up only eight men, compared to 115 on the previous occasion.
Prigosan is a powerful man. He is unabashedly critical of both Russia’s military high command and the Kremlin elite, though he has not a bad word to say about Vladimir Putin.
Wagner has played a key role for years as the unofficial arm of Russian foreign policy in Syria, Libya and other African countries.
Now this group has come out in the open in Ukraine. But Ukraine is a much bloodier battlefield and the fight is more existential, both for the Wagner Group and for Putin’s Russia, which has enabled men like Prigozhin, with his brutal, sledgehammer trade, to thrive.
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